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February 21, 2007

JOINING FORCES: Why businesses are holding joint events

Imagine the scenario: you’re well aware of the fantastic opportunity live marketing offers you to really contact your customers, so you decide the best thing to do is to stage your own event to bring your product or service into the public eye. Then you look at the competition… they’ve lavished thousands on impressive audio visual displays, great speakers and have employed a top experiential agency to give their message that extra 'wow' factor. You’re only a small company and there’s no way you can stretch to that. So what do you do? Do you:

a) Feel utterly disheartened, pick up the phone and give in to the ad sales team from one of your industry’s many under-subscribed trade mags.

Or, b) Club together with a group of your peers to pool your finances and put on the events that you’ve always dreamed of, and really go out a grab your audience by the throat?

Aside from the gratuitous pop at ad sales teams, this is pretty much the situation that Neptune Investment Management found itself in. In the investment management market, the company was up against massive names like Schroders with huge resources. “These companies hold big conferences across the country and really set the benchmark in terms of showing their products and services, investing heavily in presentation,” says Neptune’s marketing manager Georgina Pardoe. “Smaller companies like ourselves are simply unable to keep up on our own.”

Safety in numbers

Undeterred, Neptune decided to club together with others in a similar situation to form the Unique Boutiques Conferences, now in it’s second year. The conferences take the form of a roadshow that travels the country’s financial centres over a 10-day period, allowing those involved – this year it was Neptune, JO Hambro, Liontrust and SVM – to showcase their services to the financial sector in style. Not just that, explains Pardoe, “but by doing this together we get greater market penetration through sharing our contacts, we share all our resources and spread the cost burden".

Unique Boutiques goes further, with the combined prowess of the companies’ marketing departments, they are able to cut out events organisers and keep the whole process in-house – right down to manning the stands at the events and providing delegates with all the information they need. This year, they even provided a webcast of the conference presentations available through the group’s website.

Natural health products supplier Solgar, was in a not dissimilar position. “There are a number of training events given by both individual companies and also at tradeshows,” says marketing and communications director  Marie Kendall. “However, it was obvious there was a gap for information tailored to retailers on actual retailing rather than company/product profiles. Although in this case it was driven by the trade magazine, Natural Product News, there was an underlying feeling from all the companies involved that we needed to do this for the industry and for the retailers we work with. The cost would have been completely prohibitive for any company to have done this on their own. Furthermore, with each company inviting guests we had a rich and varied mix of people that would have been impossible to reproduce separately.”

Equal opportunities

Of course, one obvious question is how can you ensure that no one brand steals the limelight? “All the brands are separate within Unique Boutiques, but it’s really to everyone’s mutual benefit that the events work as a cohesive unit. On top of that, we have found that having a separate host gives the event a much more independent feel – this year, for example, it was Richard Romer-Lee of Old Broad Street Research, who’s a well-known industry figure.”

Kendall echoes Pardoe’s thoughts here. “Having a body, or independent figure – in our case the trade magazine – is essential to keep the credibility of the event," she says. "By a group of companies supporting the event there was no overall sponsor and, therefore, the information could be viewed as completely neutral. This made the event much more attractive to retailers as it was seen far more as an industry event than another training opportunity.”

Staging events can be costly and time-consuming, but by clubbing together you can look at larger, more impressive venues, better speakers and share some of the organisation. By keeping the number of companies down to a minimum, you avoid the dangers of getting lost in an exhibition hall and can tailor your time directly with a much more targeted audience. Once you get over the thought that one brand is going to override the others and realise the mutual benefits that are there to be gained, this could give you the perfect route to the event you’ve been craving.

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